What Is The Nuclear Option?

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The nuclear option | Flickr/Epic Fireworks (Creative Commons).The nuclear option | Flickr/Epic Fireworks (Creative Commons).“The nuclear option” is a term that was invented by Republican politicians in 2005 to describe their threat to change Senate rules to do away with filibusters of judicial nominees. But GOP media consultants soon decided the term was a political liability, and Republicans started to refer to it as a “smear” term created by Democrats. Then, as TPM reported at the time, Republicans “fann[ed] out to editorial rooms around Washington and New York, attempting to ban the phrase ‘nuclear option’ from print and airwave, unless it is duly noted as a Democrat-created smear phrase.”

Now, in 2010, Republicans are once again counting on short memories (the media’s and the public’s) to redefine the history of the “nuclear option” term. This time around, Republicans aren’t painting the term as a Democrat-created smear. They’re using it to describe a completely different maneuver than the one at issue in 2005.

Remember, the “nuclear option” originally described an effort to change Senate rules to prohibit filibusters of judicial nominees. Now, as MediaMatters has extensively documented, Fox News and the GOP are using it to describe the Democrats’ efforts to work within Senate rules to pass adjustments to the health care reform bill by majority vote. It’s all part of the GOP’s effort to delegitimize the filibuster-proof reconciliation process—the same majority-vote procedure that Republicans used to pass the budget-busting Bush tax cuts. It’s a bogus effort. Reconciliation was used 21 times between 1981 and 2008—16 of those times by Republicans.

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